ADA CEO Tracey Brown on the One Change that Changed Her Life

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Nov. 20, 2019
By Tracey D. Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association (ADA)

Editor’s Note: Tracey Brown is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Diabetes Association. Before taking on this role, she served as Chief Membership & Marketing Officer and also as Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Experience Officer for Sam’s Club. As a proud alumna of the Walmart family, she knows Walmart can make a meaningful difference in the health and wellbeing of communities.

November is American Diabetes Month—a time when we all come together to face the facts about diabetes and to raise awareness about its prevalence. More than 30 million Americans are living with diabetes right now. Another 84 million are living with prediabetes—but here’s the scary part: 90% of them don’t know they have it. That’s why awareness is so critical. After all, even small changes can have a huge impact on managing this disease or in some cases preventing it all together. But at the end of the day, you can’t change what you don’t know.

Some sobering facts to consider:

  • Every 21 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with diabetes, which contributes to the death of 250,000 Americans every year.
  • Each day 137 people with diabetes develop end-stage kidney disease, and 295 undergo an amputation.
  • Every 80 seconds someone with diabetes is hospitalized for heart disease, and every 2 minutes someone with diabetes is hospitalized for stroke.
These statistics are real, but many people don’t take them seriously because they think it won’t happen to them.

One contributor to the false sense of security is that a person have elevated blood sugars running through their body for a while before starting to feel “bad.” Diabetes is called the silent disease because often people discover it when they go to the doctor’s office for associated complications.

I have been living with Type 2 diabetes for 16 years, and I am saddened to say that I didn’t take my diabetes diagnosis seriously for 5 years. It wasn’t until my beautiful daughter, who was 5 years old at the time, asked me, “Mommy, are you going to die from diabetes?” Talk about stop you in your tracks – that moment turned my whole life around, and I became inspired and motivated to get it together. That meant consistently managing my medication and developing better habits around my nutrition and exercise routine. I became mindful of the foods I ate. I now eat fewer carbs and watch my sugar intake. I took it a step further and purchased a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), which keeps me informed in real time on where my sugars are throughout the day, and which allows me to make better choices.

In addition to using technology to assist me, I have changed my eating habits and have begun exercising regularly. I’m proud to say that I have worked my way off of insulin and cut my oral medications in half, and I plan to work my way off of them completely. Far too many people with diabetes are unable to make healthy changes and adopt positive routines because of issues like healthy food access and lack of affordable medications. We at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) advocate daily to change that, because we want to see everyone have access to the proper foods, medications, supplies, care and education they need to better manage their diabetes.

I am dedicating my life to helping as many people as possible thrive while living with diabetes, driving prevention of diabetes and continuing to fight for a cure to eradicate this disease! This is about serving a purpose bigger than myself: helping people and saving lives. This isn’t dissimilar to the purpose of Walmart: to save people money so they can live better. Again, part of the reason why I absolutely loved working for the Walmart/Sam’s Club family is because at the core of what Mr. Sam believed in and what the company does every day is helping people, both customers and associates. When I joined Sam’s Club/Walmart my intention was that it would be my last corporate stop because I believe in everything the company stands for: servant leadership, helping people and doing good. I was blessed to serve initially as Sam’s Club’s Chief Membership & Marketing Officer and then as the Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Experience Officer, and honestly didn’t dream of leaving the organization. I was serving on the National Board of the ADA, and I was asked if I would consider coming on as the CEO. That took me by surprise! However, many know that I never believe anything happens by chance, and I believe that life is about aligning your life’s purpose with your passions and then finally with your position. After prayer and careful consideration, I decided to devote all of my skillset, expertise and experience to taking down this diabetes epidemic and saving lives!

As the first chief executive officer of the ADA living with diabetes, I truly feel this is a role where my purpose meets my passion and position. I am where I am supposed to be during this season of my life. Our mission is to prevent and cure diabetes, and to improve the lives of all those affected by it. I work every day to meet that mission because, as someone living with diabetes myself, I feel an intense drive to help educate the world on diabetes, how to prevent it, and just as important, how to thrive with it.

Let me give you one more thing to think about. 1 out of 2 people are either living with diabetes or prediabetes. This means that everyone knows someone who is affected by this disease.

Diabetes connects us, and yes, we all want a cure, but even more than that we want life.

There is nothing that we can’t do when we are Connected For Life! So, this American Diabetes Month, I want you to join me in changing the numbers on diabetes. Help us educate the world and raise awareness. Make a healthy change and help your loved ones to do the same – the impact will be life-changing. Continue to THRIVE!

We’re counting Walmart/Sam’s club in to help all the associates and millions of its shoppers to make a healthy change by eating healthier foods, exercising regularly and managing your stress and sleep. Can we count you in? Learn more and make your healthy change today at diabetes.org/CountMeInADA.